A $10 bill went a long way in 1905.
Just to get some perspective, a 10 spot at the turn of the 20th century would be equivalent to $270 in 2018. Today, that's half a month’s rent, a weeks worth of groceries or one exceptionally bad hand at the blackjack table.
It's a lot of money, but it's peanuts when compared to how much a 1905 $10 bank note from Blair might bring at auction this week.
The $10 bill was recently found in an estate in San Francisco, Calif. There's only speculation as to how it wound up so far from home. What is known is it was handed down from an in-home nurse who worked in the Beverly Hills area.
"We think the most likely thing would be that the person she was caring for came from Blair and either had no relatives or had a special connection with this caretaker," said Manning Garrett, the director of currency auctions for Stacks Bowers Galleries, which is handling the sale.
The note is exceedingly rare according to Garrett, who said its value stems from multiple factors.
"It's kind of a perfect storm of desirability," he said.
It is one of two notes in existence from the Blair National Bank, which opened in 1905 and operated for 10 years. At that time any "national bank" could issue their own currency.
"Some banks, like let's say the National Bank of New York City, issued millions of bank notes and today you can buy one for $40," Garrett said. "But a bank like Blair was serving a much smaller community, so they needed a fraction of the bank notes to meet demand."
The first note that was found from Blair was auctioned in 2009 and sold for just over $12,000. It was what is known as a "blue seal" note, referring to the color of the seal on the bill itself. Blue seal notes were issued from 1908 to 1928. The note up for sale Friday is a red seal, which were only issued from 1902 to 1908, making it much more collectable than the note that was sold in 2009.
The bill is in pristine shape. The red seal is as bright as the day it was issued and the bottom of the bill is signed by the bank's cashier and president in the immaculate cursive everyone from that era seemed to have. These signatures add to the rarity.
"When banks first opened, bankers were of course very proud of their money and they'd take the time to individually sign each bank note," Garrett said. "But at a certain point, you'd get tired of signing every note so a lot of banks would have a stamp of their signature made up."
These stamps used cheap ink that would fade to almost nothing in a matter of years, decreasing the value of the note. Signed notes on the other hand, retain their signatures quite well.
The most astounding thing about the bill is the simple fact that it still exists. Most bills were swapped out when the newer blue seals were issued beginning in 1908.
“Everyone wanted their money to be as fresh as possible,” Garrett said. “So, if someone brought in a raggedy old red seal from five or 10 years ago, they’d swap it out for a fresh blue seal and send the old one off to Washington D.C., to be destroyed.”
Even if they managed to avoid the incinerator, red seals had to be passed down for generations without being thrown out or spent. This included surviving the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression, when bankers lost more money than anyone and $10 might’ve been the difference between an empty stomach and a full one.
“It was tough to hold on to a $10 bill in ’29 if you were broke,” Garrett said. “Even after that, these notes had to get through two generations until the 1960s when this stuff started to become collectable.”
Garrett said the existence of this bill means someone recognized its potential a long time ago.
“Really for something like this to be around today, someone in the early 1900s had to understand its importance and then relay that importance for 80 years,” Garrett said. “And now, finally it has collector value and other people start to appreciate it.”
On Friday, the bill will be auctioned live in Baltimore and simultaneously online and via phone. Garrett said many of those vying for the bill will be local collectors.
“Most collectors specialize in a state,” he said. “So, you’re going to have collectors from Nebraska looking to add a note from Blair to their collection.”
The starting bid for the note is $7,500. It has an estimated value online of $12,000 to$17,000. But Garrett said if the right two or three collectors are interested in this piece, the final bid could be upward of $40,000.
And just in case that leaves someone wondering how much $40,000 would be worth in 1905 — that’d be $1,057,836.45.
Article courtesy Casey L. Sill, Washington County Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise Mar 20, 2018